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The competition for the maglia rosa came down to the last 5 km of the last climb of the last road stage of the 2022 Giro d’Italia. For Jai Hindley, those kilometres were paved with rose gold.
No, it wasn’t a vintage stage, despite what the profile promised. But even as the certainty grew that the breakaway would win the day, the suspense was palpable as the world awaited GC fireworks.
While Alessandro Covi’s (UAE Team Emirates) stage-winning move happened more than 50 km from the finish, the battle between the inseparable trio of Richard Carapaz, Jai Hindley and Mikel Landa waited until the steepest slopes of the Passo Fedaia, in the shadow of the Marmolada.
Round 1: tactical excellence
In a Giro jam-packed with opportunities for the breakaway, Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgohe) is the man who claimed the first of the race on stage 4 to Mount Etna. So it seems only fitting that the young German should find his way into the last.
It’s a little surprising that he was allowed, but a combination of time and the need to wait for dropped domestiques – including Ben Swift (Ineos Grenadiers), Wout Poels and Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain-Victorious) – meant that Kämna and another of Landa’s teammates Domen Novak (Bahrain-Victorious), who would eventually finish second on the stage, were permitted a ticket to ride.
With so little separating the GC podium, it was expected, maybe hoped, that stage 20 would be an epic showdown between the big three. But the breakaway gained and maintained a gap of around six minutes until deep into the race, ensuring yet another successful escape.
Only Covi was left in the lead by the foot of the final climb, the remaining breakaway riders scattered in his wake. Kämna was last seen dropping off the back of the second group on the road, more than two minutes behind the leader, as the GC race was finally grinding into gear.
It came together perfectly for Bora-Hansgrohe. When Carapaz’s last man Pavel Sivakov (subbing in for poorly Porte) was done, Kämna was just a few hundred metres up the road, so Hindley had a mark to reach when he attacked.
Round 2: O captain! My captain!
Such was the pace, gradient and/or fatigue after three long weeks of racing that Carapaz was the only one to respond, so the pink jersey was all the Bora pair had to worry about.
Kämna emptied himself for Hindley with Carapaz rocking from side to side behind them. It was Kämna vs Carapaz – who could last the longest – and Kämna won.
“The initial plan wasn’t to have someone in the break but when Lenny was in there then we said on the radio keep cool until the final climb and we’ll try to use him as a satellite rider,” Hindley said in the post-race press conference. “It was really a phenomenal ride from him today, to be out there in the break all day and drop back at that important moment and really give me this pull there in that part of the race was crucial. It was a phenomenal ride from him today and I’m very thankful.”
Hindley looked over his shoulder for the last time, his earpiece surely erupting with noise from the team car, and seeing his rival implode behind him, Hindley went all in.
Round 3: the final push
It was spectacular.
But it was not over yet. There is still the dreaded final time trial to come and Hindley needed a decent gap if he was to hold on to the race lead. The 26-year-old has been in this position before, and he faces a historically better time trialist in Carapaz, so he was on a mission to put as much time between them as possible.
“Today was a pretty crucial day with the final climb being so hard and I knew that if I wanted to do something in the race it would have to be today, regardless of how the legs were feeling,” Hindley said. “I gave it everything and when I heard that Carapaz was struggling a bit that was all the motivation I needed to go full gas to the line.”
While Hindley was clearly on a very very good day, Carapaz could not boast the same. He stayed with Kämna for a while, but the Ecuadorian lost not only time but his position on the road, eventually finishing 11th after being overtaken by Carthy and Landa.
Hindley finished sixth, 2:30 down on stage-winner Covi, but more important is the 1:28 advantage over Carapaz. So when you factor in the three seconds Carapaz held over him at the start of the day, that puts Hindley into the race lead by 1:25.
CyclingTips numbers oracle Ronan Mc Laughlin estimated that the Australian might be nervous but happy with 30 seconds, and confident with 40. So barring disaster, 1:25 should be plenty. Now just 17.4 km stand between the Perth man and a place in history.
“I knew from a pretty young age that I wanted to be a professional cyclist and it’s all I’ve dreamed about,” Hindley said. “To be at the Giro d’Italia and wearing the pink jersey on the second last day, like I did two years ago, it’s really emotional. It’s really special.
“It was a really bumpy road to get back here, with a tough season last year. I didn’t know if I was going to be back in this jersey again, but now I am thankful to all the people who got me here.”
Stage 20 brings to a close (almost) a pretty epic Giro for Bora-Hansgrohe, with two stage wins, a race-defining stage 14 and a determined final week culminating in Hindley’s dominant display on Saturday. Every one of the eight riders played a key role, as did sports director Enrico Gasparotto who, like Hindley, joined the team at the beginning of 2022.
“He’s been pretty crucial to have in the car,” Hindley said of the Italian former pro-turned-DS. “He was a really good rider and he was a really calculated rider, and to have that experience in the car is crucial. He knows a lot of the roads, he knows a lot of the riders, he knows a lot, to have that experience in your ear it was really important, but it wasn’t just him, the other DSs really did a phenomenal job.”